Re: [asa] EIC (Evolutionar[il]y Informed Christian)

From: Randy Isaac <randyisaac@comcast.net>
Date: Mon Dec 15 2008 - 22:07:38 EST

David Clounch wrote:
"2nd subject:
Information surely happens in nature. But it is only meaningful to intelligent beings. OK, I am thinking about the arrangement of that hedge at the waterfront in Victoria. The plants might have just blown in with the wind to form letters in the English language. That is complexity. It could be all natural. But the fact that they say "Welcome To Victoria"....that is information. It is the context sensitive aspect that makes it true information. No amount of arranging of the letters could ever make the sentence correlate with the knowledge that the city surrounding the hedge is Victoria. Indeed, due to political upheaval, perhaps next week the city will be New Mumbai. The point is, we can tell the hedge isnt natural.

The key to detecting an artifact of intelligence, then, is being able to tell when some arrangement is natural and when it isnt. We might stare right at it, and if we dont know the city is Victoria, we might think its a natural arrangement.
Beautiful in its complexity. Completely devoid of information. But does that mean there isnt information there? Would we have an ability to say with certitude there is no information? No intelligence visited here? Or would we merely be lacking a tabla rosa?"

Permit me to answer your second question first and then return to your other very important question.
Your first sentence "information surely happens in nature" continues to reflect the confusion between information and complexity that I tried to explain in my previous post. Information, properly understood, doesn't just happen in nature. It is a meaning assigned to a physical configuration by an intelligent agent. (Information really is physical, but we'll leave that debate for a later time). It is not simply "only meaningful to intelligent beings," it is generated, stored, conveyed, and understood by intelligent beings.

Let me rephrase your question this way. Given a particular pattern in nature, how do we know whether an intelligent being is using it to store or transmit information? I don't think we can ever know with certainty that it isn't. But under what situations can we know with certainty that it is?

Virtually all detection of information involves knowing the encryption key or at least enough about the encryption key to be able to identify the existence of some information, even if it cannot be fully deciphered. As an example, consider the electromagnetic radiation impinging on you at this very moment. Does it contain information? If so, what is it? It seems rather clear that the vast majority of such radiation comes from the sun and other parts of the universe and contains no information. But if you're a good ham operator, you could build a tuner and start amplifying very specific frequencies. Knowing some basic modulation schemes, you can start decoding it and determining what information is being conveyed. Maybe it's in Swahili so you still don't understand it but you can be certain some information is being transmitted. Similarly, knowing only a few basic encryption methods, you would soon find countless frequencies that seemed at first to be gibberish where information is being transmitted. Even without knowing what the information is, you can tell that information is there.

So the question is if we really don't know how information is being encoded, can we find a way to determine whether information exists or if it is solely complexity. And now we return to your first question:
"I have a question for Randy. Given the described difference between complexity and information, would information then be roughly the same as Dembski's "specified complexity"? I mean, it always seemed to me that specification, not complexity, was what Dembski was getting at.

I heard you say that information is something that only intelligent beings recognize. Is this equivalent to specification is something that only intelligent beings recognize?"

The topic of specified complexity is a very good one and relevant to determining if information is there. First I should say that I do find Dembski's explanatory filter to be a good concept. It makes sense and is an aide toward systematically determining whether we are dealing with complexity or information. I have two concerns about it. 1. It is far too difficult to actually compute the probabilities involved since we usually don't know enough about the physical systems in question to do that. and 2. the filter doesn't provide justification for concluding design by any agent about which we have no knowledge or experience, hence nothing beyond human or sentient animals.

How does specified complexity differ from complexity? Let's try an analogy. I believe analogies are not valid in a logical argument but they can be very useful as illustrations to help us understand difficult concepts. The oft-used analogy is dealing a deck of cards. If we include the sequence of the cards, then the number of possibilities is 52! which is a very large number indeed, around 10^68. Complexity is the arrangement of the cards that are dealt. What would make it specified? Specification can arise explicitly or implicitly. Explicit specification would be if, prior to dealing, you specify which sequence of cards you would like to have in your hand. If that is precisely what is dealt, you have specified complexity. It would be pretty amazing and anyone would be justified in suspecting cheating. Specification can also be implicit. That is, the nature of the face cards and the numerical values is such that unique patterns are implicit. So obtaining all the face cards, even if you hadn't explicitly called for that, would be implicit specificity since those cards have special meaning. Same with numerical sequences. Specification can also be partial (i.e. calling for a subset of your hand), though the smaller the size that you specify, the higher the probability of getting it. The point of this analogy is that specification has to do with a priori meaning assigned to a sequence of complexity. If the deck of cards all had only a random mark and no number or face values, then no specified complexity could exist.

How do we apply that to DNA or biochemistry in living cells? Certainly there is complexity. Is it specified? That's a very good question. And it depends on your perspective. Since these biochemical structures existed prior to our being aware of them, there is no way of getting an a priori specification. So it can't be explicit. But is there an implicit specification? Well, maybe but maybe not. The ID community would say that in order for a flagellum to rotate or other irreducibly complex structures to exist, there had to be a specification of the complexity for that system of molecules. The counterpoint to that is that it exists because it works. The deck of cards was dealt until a hand was playable. But neither side is very convincing on this. Once it exists, it is not possible to determine with certainty whether it was one of many possibilities that was selected naturally or whether it was a unique situation that was predetermined.

And here comes the theological part. Did God specify the complexity ahead of time? One might conceivably argue that if human beings with the precise DNA configuration (within the bounds of human variability) of Homo Sapiens were the end target, then that is specified complexity. If complexity meets that specification, one could conceivably argue that it could have happened only through the purpose of an intelligent agent. And in this regard I quite agree with the ID community.

In fact, here is the dilemma for TE advocates. Atheistic evolutionists would argue that human beings were not the intent, they just happened to be the result of evolutionary processes. One of many possibilities. ID argues that human beings are the intent and to get evolutionary processes to lead to human beings, the specified complexity, there had to be the involvement of an intelligent agent. TE, I think, is in a large part similar if not identical to ID at this 50,000 foot level and differs only when ID tries to argue its case at the detailed level of specific molecules or processes. TE also maintains that human beings are God's intended endgame as well as the result of evolutionary processes. The paradox is resolved by asserting that God has some unknown method of controlling random processes. And in this sense also, TE and ID are the same--God controls the evolutionary process in some undetermined way. The ID folks just think it is a little more obvious while TE thinks it is more hidden. Not much difference for all the fighting they're doing. (ok, the fighting is due to a lot of inaccurate thinking at the detail level)

It seems there are a couple of ways out of the dilemma. The robust formational economy principle that Van Till came up with basically moves God's involvement from the ongoing randomness back to the very beginning, often called front-loading in this forum. But that doesn't seem to be totally satisfactory either. It is still a specified complexity. The other option is to say that human beings, as we precisely exist, may not have been the predetermined endpoint. That is, maybe God didn't say that evolution had to end up with Homo Sapiens. Any species with sufficient consciousness to perceive his existence and recognize who God is and have a relationship with Him will do. It turned out to be us! That removes the specification and no clear intelligence was necessary along the way. Any hand that was dealt was playable. This seems to be the path that Van Till finally followed. It runs smack into a lot of theological difficulty and, inevitably, the heresy of open, or process, theology. Ouch.

So, in a much more long winded reply than I intended, Dave, yes specified complexity is an important part of assessing whether or not some intelligence was involved in the process. The trick is in knowing just what it means to be specified. No easy answers.

Randy

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Received on Mon Dec 15 22:08:04 2008

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